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Effective Use of Law Clerks

EFFECTIVE USE OF LAW CLERKS

By: Catherine D’Aversa

Over the years the delivery of legal services has changed.  Law clerks have been incorporated into the lawyers’ practice to complement skills and increase productivity.

Law clerks were traditionally relied upon to prepare and file forms, complete repetitive, fundamental legal documents and conduct various legal searches.  Today, law clerks not only fulfill those needs but have become an integral part of the lawyers’ practice in delivering legal services.

Law clerks are educated, trained legal professionals who like lawyers; work in a specific practice area (i.e. real estate, corporate, tax, matrimonial, personal injury, wills and estates).  They are members of the “legal team”.  This may mean they work with a single lawyer or they work with a practice group depending on the dynamics of the legal department or law firm.

Legal departments or law firms generally have many more partners than associates; some have very few mid-level associates or none at all.  With limited junior professional support, effective use of law clerks can improve the delivery of legal services and increase client satisfaction.  The result is increased firm profitability and productivity.

With limited associates, partners can be heard to complain that there is no one to delegate work to, either because associates or law clerks are too busy or there is no one available with the right level of experience.   Some of you may have experienced that unique Partner as well, where delegation and supervision is a burden.  The Partner believes that giving the work to an associate or law clerk is not in the best interest of the client — “I can do it faster and it will be cheaper.” they say.

Is it really true?

 “I can do it faster” - Lawyers are facing an ever increasing amount of work and clients demand the work be done quickly and cost-effectively.  With the ever increasing workload of the partner, can he/she really do all the work themselves?  Delegation is necessary in order to provide quick turnaround of services.  Adding well-trained law clerks as members of the legal team will increase productivity and profitability of the legal services.  This will result in greater client satisfaction.

“It will be cheaper” – The difference in the hourly rate of the partner and a well-trained law clerk is significant.  The cost of the partner giving instructions, the law clerk completing the work and the partner reviewing the work will be more cost-effective than the partner completing the work on his/her own.  Because associates move on to more sophisticated work every few years, they cannot provide the continuity of legal services to the client that a well-trained law clerk can.

Clients today are educated of the value that law clerks bring to the delivery of legal services and expect this resource will be available to keep legal costs lower.

Incorporating Law Clerks into your practice

How do you incorporate law clerks into your practice?

  • Look at your practice and decide what work you feel should be delegated to law clerks to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
  • Get to know the law clerks in your legal department or your firm.  Find out what the skill set and hourly rate of each law clerk is so that you can match it up with the needs of your practice and your client needs.
  • Meet with the law clerk(s) to talk about your needs and get their feedback.
  • Include the law clerks in work assignment, fee quotes, and special projects.
  • Work with the law clerks on precedents, programs, and systems for routine work to increase efficiency and profitability.
  • Communicate expectations.
  • Have regular meetings to discuss work in progress, deadlines, successes, improvements.

Effective Use of Law Clerks

What does this mean?  Law clerks, like lawyers, have an hourly rate and revenue targets.  This needs to be kept in mind when allocating work to law clerks.

  • Allocate the law clerk work to the appropriate level of law clerk.  This will ensure that the work will be completed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  For example:
    • Do not assign low level work to a senior law clerk because the hourly rate may be too high for thie type of service to be billed, resulting in law clerk time being written off;
    • Do not assign sophisticated work to a law clerk that has a lower billable rate trying to be cost-effective because that law clerk may not have the skills to complete the work in a timely manner or accurately, which may result in either the lawyer or senior law clerk amending and finalizing the assigned work.
    • Ensure that instructions are given clearly, preferably in writing to avoid miscommunication.
    • Include the law clerk on appropriate communication to the client.  Educate the law clerk on the client business and needs which will enhance the law clerk value to your client services.
    • Negotiate deadlines.  Do not assume that the law clerk is waiting to receive your work without any other deadlines.  By negotiating deadlines, you will ensure that the work will be done on time.
    • Communicate expectations.  Ensure that you give special instructions or precedents if the work is not routine.
    • Keep the law clerk informed of any changes, and new information during the transaction so that the law clerk has all the information necessary to complete the work assigned.
    • Do not give administrative work which cannot be billed to the client to the law clerk.  This administrative work should be given to your assistant.
    • Pro bono work should be first approved by the person the law clerk reports to.
    • Include law clerks in the legal teams for large transactions and projects.

Law clerks contribute to the success of cost-effective legal teams and client satisfaction.  By effectively incorporating law clerks into your practice you can increase the workload while meeting deadlines, ensure continuity of client services, offer competitive alternative fee arrangements and legal project fees, increase profitability and client service standards.

I would be happy to assist you in adding value to your practice with the incorporation of law clerk services.

About Catherine D'Aversa

As President of Legal Resource Consulting Inc. (“LRC”) Catherine D’Aversa is engaged by law firms, government legal departments and corporate in-house law departments to improve paraprofessional skills and services using extensive skills developed over more than 32 years in the legal industry. LRC analyses and assesses paraprofessional services within its clients’ organization and provides recommendations on structure, technology, systems, processes and management to improve services standards, productivity and profitability. LRC acts as Project Manager to implement recommendations to enhance paraprofessional skills and services to better meet lawyer and client needs while increasing revenue. LRC delivers professional development workshops on topics such as Docketing Strategies, Practice Management, Practice Development, Project Management, Strategies for Productivity & Profitability, Working as a Legal Professional and Legal Writing and Reporting. Catherine is a contributing author of several legal books and a regular speaker and commentator at business seminars and conferences.